The Ethics of Attention: a framework


Discussions regarding which norms, if any, govern our practices of forming, maintaining and relinquishing beliefs have come to be collected under the label “The ethics of belief”. Included in the ethics of belief are debates about how those normative issues relate to the nature of belief, whether belief formation is, for example, ever voluntary. The present talk concerns an analogous set of questions regarding our practices of attention. “The ethics of attention” thus concerns the discussion of which norms, if any, govern our practices of attention: what norms govern what we should attend to, how we should engage our capacity for attention, when we should begin and when we should stop to pay attention to something? Like the ethics of belief, the ethics of attention will connect those normative questions to issues regarding the nature of attention, what may or may not be subject to such normative pressures. Compared with rich, complex, and systematic investigation of the ethics of belief, the study of the ethics of attention is more or less undeveloped. This paper aims to begin to change that. Specifically, it shows that attention is an appropriate target for serious normative investigation and then classifies potential norms of attention along three dimensions: whether they are manner or object based, instrumental or non-instrumental, and whether its source is moral, prudential or epistemic. [EDIT. 10. November 2021: this paper has been superseded by a new version. Please cite that in turn]

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Sebastian Watzl
University of Oslo


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